The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

On September 24, 2016, the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC on the National Mall opened its doors to the American public after ten decades of frustrated efforts.  It is part of the Smithsonian Institution's 19th museum.  The NMAAHC is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.  It was established by an act of Congress in 2003.

The vision of the museum was built on the following pillars and challenges:

- To harness the power of memory in illuminating many painful, but necessary, elements of the past.

- To demonstrate that this was more than a people’s journey - it was a nation’s story.

- To be a beacon that captured all the work of other museums in a manner that was collaborative and non-competitive.

- An opportunity to reflect upon the global dimensions of the African American experience.

Some of the biggest challenges were the widely different assumptions of what the museum should be. There were those who felt that it was impossible in a federally-supported museum to be candid about some painful aspects of history such as slavery and discrimination. Others felt that the new museum had the responsibility to shape the mindset of future generations, and to avoid discussing and showcasing African Americans as victims.  Conversely, some believed that the museum should be an institution that depicted “what they did to us.”

In September 1988, Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.), introduced a bill to create a museum of African American History and Culture. Some critics had concerns about the huge cost of the project and proposed combining the African American Museum, and the “National Museum of the American Indian.” The bill failed and John Lewis would continue to introduce a similar bill with every new Congress. In 2003, a Commission appointed by President George W. Bush studied the issue again and issued a report entitled “The Time Has Come.”  Congress passed the law authorizing the museum that same year.

A design team of African American Architects, Max Bond, Phil Freelon and David Adjaye (who would become the team’s lead designer), created a unique design element called the Corona, a pierced bronze colored crown that surrounds the top three levels of the exterior. The symbolism of the Corona has roots in the African culture (Tanzania). The curator of the museum was Lonnie Bunch.

The African American Museum is a place that finds the right tension between moments of pain and stories of resiliency and uplift. It plays a small part in helping our nation grapple with its racial past, and may even help us reach reconciliation.

Whenever possible, consider a long weekend and tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture, at14th Street/Constitutional Avenue on the National Mall. Virtual tours are also possible.

The link to the museum’s website is below.  Enjoy your tour.